Björn Ulvaeus talks Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

The world premiere event for Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again took place at London’s Eventim Apollo.

On Monday 16 July 2018 at London’s Eventim Apollo in Hammersmith, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again received its world premiere. Released to the wider world on 20 July, the movie has already smashed box office records around the globe.

At the after premiere party in London, Björn told icethesite about the reception the premiere crowd had given the movie:

“It was absolutely fantastic. The event was really quite special with all the actors gathered on the stage before the showing. The reaction was something else!”

Scenes from the world premiere which took place on 16 July

And how was it that ‘Mamma Mia! 2’ finally came into being?

“Well the story has to serve the songs and the other way around of course. And we waited until we had a script that everyone agreed we could work with. Ol Parker did a brilliant job of weaving the story together and then we could see that there was a second movie in there after all!”

What was it like revisiting decades old songs in order to rewrite lyrics for the movie?

“Movie songs have to serve the story and where it was felt that the originals didn’t quite hit a particular moment on the head, I was more than happy to make a few changes here and there. Where in the ABBA recordings the stories were self contained, with the movie I had to ensure that they fitted the wider story.

“The new lyrics came to me pretty quickly and they felt very organic.

“For My Love, My Life to be set in a church meant that revisiting it in its new setting had religious overtones for me.”

Even though you are an atheist?

“Even though and maybe because of. Religion is a fascinating subject to me.”

Have Agnetha and Frida seen the movie yet?
“Not yet but I am pretty sure they will be very happy, as we are, when they do. It’s a good flick.”

There’s more…

Benny delighted party goers when he took to the piano and accompanied Lily James, Jessica Keenan Wynn and Alexa Davies in an impromptu rendition of <em>Mamma Mia. </em>Dancing queens Judy Craymer and Christine Baranski were clearly having the time of their lives!
Benny delighted party goers when he took to the piano and accompanied Lily James, Jessica Keenan Wynn and Alexa Davies in an impromptu rendition of Mamma Mia. Dancing queens Judy Craymer and Christine Baranski were clearly having the time of their lives!

CHESS press night at The London Coliseum

CHESS is officially up and running again in London’s West End. The Benny Andersson, Tim Rice and Björn Ulvaeus musical has finished its previews at the home of the English National Opera and last night launched to the press. We had a chance to chat with some of the cast and creatives about their involvement in this epic revival.

Benny Andersson and Tim Rice
Benny Andersson and Tim Rice

Benny told us: “This is how Björn and I have always envisioned CHESS. A large and wonderful orchestra, a powerful choir and a great rock band form the backbone of the score. Then add in some great voices and performances from the principals, like we have here, and well, I will definitely be coming back to see it again.”

Sir Tim said that he was delighted by the ENO’s treatment of the show that was last in the West End over thirty years ago. “I think this production is magnificent. Truly spectacular and so well crafted and staged. It sounds glorious.”

Cassidy Janson plays Florence Vassy
Cassidy Janson plays Florence Vassy

Florence, the role first played by Elaine Paige, who was among the audience last night, is played by Cassidy Janson (who played Carole King in the West End version of Beautiful). She brings her character’s journey of passion and pain alive to great tear-jerking effect.

She told icethesite that she was loving every moment of performing in CHESS and that to be at The London Coliseum was a dream come true. “I already don’t want it to end,” she said.

Michael Ball has long sung the show stopping Anthem in his concert tours and has always wanted to perform the role of Anatoly. He said he is relishing this opportunity to sing with the 60 piece orchestra of the ENO…”and who wouldn’t?!” he said.

Cedric Neal is The Arbiter, keeping a masterful eye on proceedings at the World Chess Championships, and bringing a rich vocal twist to his numbers, squeezing in a few intricate runs here and there.

Alexandra Burke with Cedric Neal
Alexandra Burke with Cedric Neal

The role of Anatoly’s wife, Svetlana Sergievsky’s has been expanded from the London production of the 1980s and is performed superbly at The Coliseum by Alexandra Burke.

The part now includes a song new to London, imported from Chess på Svenska (the hit Swedish CHESS production). He Is A Man, He Is A Child helps establish Svetlana’s character and the emotional journey she finds herself on as Act Two begins.

Alexandra told us: “I’ll be honest, I didn’t know CHESS, the score or the show before the part came along. I agreed to the role when I learned of the credentials of the team behind this production, the fact it is the ENO, that it is here at The Coliseum and that Tim Rice, and Benny and Björn from ABBA had written the music.

Then when I knew who my fellow cast members were going to be and we started rehearsing this amazing music with the incredible orchestra, I absolutely knew I had made the right decision.”

Tim Howar at last night's CHESS press night
Tim Howar at last night’s CHESS press night

Tim Howar plays Frederick Trumper, the troubled American chess player who vies for the world title with Anatoly in Act One. He is particularly sensational during Pity The Child, often dubbed ‘Pity The Singer’ due to its emotional complexity and wide musical range.

However, Tim said he was originally tried out for the role of The Arbiter. “When Benny and Björn saw the videos of my Arbiter performance, they suggested instead that the production had found its Freddie Trumper. “We need a rock guy,” they said.

“I am a huge CHESS fan and have been for years, even performing the show in an amateur dramatics society years ago back in Canada. At first I just wanted to be a part, any part of this London show if I could, but when I landed the role of the American, I knew that I could bring memories of certain episodes from my own past family history to the role and at the same time have a blast every night.”

Tim with Jodie and baby Hamish
Tim with wife Jodie and baby Hamish

Tim hit the headlines when he had to leave at the end of the first act of the first preview of CHESS last Thursday.

On hearing that his wife Jodie Oliver-Howar had gone into labour, he rushed to be by her side. Their son Hamish might have stolen his dad away from CHESS at the first preview but incredibly at just four days old, he was there to add his support on press night!

The entire creative team, from set and lighting designers, the phenomenal orchestra under the baton of John Rigby, the chorus and all the principals (special mention too for Philip Browne’s menacing Molokov) have breathed new life into CHESS.

In this guise, the story appears much clearer without obvious signposting and each number is given a fresh, thoughtful musical and theatrical treatment.

Benny, Tim and Björn each loved it and that really is high praise!

CHESS runs until 2 June. Get tickets.

Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus onboard for Mamma Mia! sequel

News recently surfaced of a sequel to the movie smash Mamma Mia!. And yes, ABBA’s Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus have given the project their seal of approval and will also serve as executive producers.

The sequel Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again will be set once more on the Greek island of Kalokairi, and reunites the producers from the original film, Judy Craymer (who created and produced the stage show) and Gary Goetzman.

Ol Parker

New this time around is Ol Parker, who has written the new movie and will also direct.

Ol is best known for The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2015), The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011) and Now Is Good (2012).

The new Universal Pictures movie will feature ABBA songs that weren’t included in the first film and also reprises some of the most popular.

Mamma Mia! The Movie, which was released in 2008, was a huge worldwide hit, making $609.8M in global box office sales. Until this year’s Beauty And The Beast, Mamma Mia! was the biggest grossing live-action musical ever.

The original cast, including Meryl Streep, Julie Walters, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Amanda Seyfried and Dominic Cooper are all expected to return for the second outing of the musical.

The news of the new movie has divided ABBA fans, much like the original stage show and movie did. One thing that no-one can deny is how phenomenally successful those two showcases of ABBA’s music went on to become.

Look out for much more news about the new film which is set to hit the silver screen in July 2018, ten years after the original was released.

‘ABBA – The Complete Recording Sessions’ Sneak Peak!

‘Writing The Tunes’ is an essay from the eagerly awaited, revised and expanded book  ‘ABBA – The Complete Recording Sessions’ by ABBA historian and acclaimed author Carl Magnus Palm. It is a fascinating account of the roles and responsibilities that Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus take on during the songwriting process. Here is an exclusive sneak peak…

Carl Magnus Palm
Carl Magnus Palm – Photo: bjornfotograf.se

The start of a songwriting period was always the hardest for the team: getting over the initial threshold. “After we release an album we don’t write for two or three months,” Björn explained at one point, “so when we start again it’s really hard and nothing helps but hard work.” The discipline of working day after day, hour after hour, Monday through Friday during office hours, was crucial for these particular writers; it was their method for getting the creative juices flowing. Björn was very firm about it in a 1982 interview. “There is nothing bohemian about [writing songs]. It’s a job that requires good character and discipline, like every other profession. That thing about writing when inspiration hits you, and usually in the middle of the night: both Benny and I quickly realised that it’s just a myth.” Like most songwriters, then, Andersson and Ulvaeus had concluded that if they would just wait for “inspiration”, they would never get any work done: the magic feeling of being possessed by something of an almost spiritual nature would emerge only through the work itself. “Inspiration comes at the exact moment when you hear that you’re on to something that’s good,” as Benny once phrased it.

So what would happen during these songwriting sessions? It was quite a simple set-up: Benny would be at the piano, or whatever keyboard instrument was handy, with Björn sitting beside him, armed with an acoustic or electric guitar. Then they’d start playing chords, humming ideas for melodies, throwing riffs and fragments of songs at each other, grabbing hold of the other person’s idea and take it to the next level. “All of a sudden,” Benny explained in a 1974 interview, “one of us will sing something that turns you on and then you play that thing, trying to develop it.”

The melody lines they’d be working on didn’t necessarily originate during the songwriting session: they would bring ideas to the room where they both were sitting, but those ideas would more often than not have emerged when they were alone. Rarely, however, would those melodies pop up while they were out walking or shopping, or were simply busy doing nothing; it was when actively playing music that the ideas would come. “You don’t write a good song in an hour,” explained Benny many years later. “You need to have two months [of] trying out ideas, before writing the good song in that hour. … If you don’t sit there and if you don’t work on it really hard, trying to achieve something and trying to make something good, it’s not going to happen. It’s not going to happen sitting in the car, thinking, ‘Oh I have this good idea’, nothing like that. I have to sit at a piano or a keyboard and play through the rubbish, and get rid of that, and sometimes things will pop out and I can say, ‘This is good.’”

As many have witnessed and he himself admits, Benny always found it hard to resist playing a piano wherever there was one available and it was through sitting at the keyboards hour after hour, just playing away, that all the music he’d ever heard in his life, combined with his own tastes, temperament, inclinations and feelings, would suddenly result in brand new melody lines travelling from his brain and out to his fingers. “I actually think that this is what ‘composing’ is really about, that the music has to exist before you play it,” he says today. “It’s not about sitting there improvising, as it were, it’s about sitting at the piano and wait for this thing that already exists to arrive. You want to watch your hands play something that you haven’t heard before, but which really is structured, in some way. And that takes time – usually you have to wait a very long time.”

Coming up with melody lines that felt right, that were worth developing, was a completely intuitive process. “I don’t know what it is that makes you choose like you do,” Benny says. “If I’m playing for four hours straight, trying to arrive at something that might be used for something, which I believe that I’ve invented, then I can’t really say why this melody line or these four bars in particular are what I decide to keep instead of all the other ideas that have come up. I just don’t know. The only thing I can say is that it feels right.”

What Björn and Benny would be doing once they got together, was to piece all those ideas together into a coherent song. “We don’t really adhere to any principle when we write songs; we just play around,” said Björn in a 1977 interview. “We both look for something and we both know when we find it and that’s an incredible feeling, the best kick you can get.” Rarely would they try to write a specific kind of tune: whatever came up during the writing, that they liked, they would go with. “Of course,” Benny admitted at the time, “if we’ve written eight songs for an album and we need two more, and all those eight songs are ballads, you don’t aim for writing two more ballads. But they may turn out to be anyway.”

If they were lucky, the process of coming up with a cohesive tune could in itself be relatively quick. The normal course of events, however, was that it took a lot of time, since their quest for the strongest possible melody ensured that at least 90 percent of their ideas for melody lines and song fragments would be discarded. “Sometimes it takes you a week and there is no song at all – or two weeks,” Benny explained in a 1980 interview, “and sometimes it takes four hours and there is almost a complete song there”.

They would be ruthless against themselves: just a catchy chorus wasn’t enough, they wanted the entire song to be solid, in all its parts, from start to finish, “never leaving a song until we feel it’s the best thing we’ve done,” as they once put it. But there wasn’t a fixed pattern as to the order in which the song would be put together: for example, they didn’t necessarily start with the chorus and then build the rest of the song around it. Says Benny, “You start at one end, with whatever you’ve come up with – four bars, or eight, or just a phrase you like – and then you use that as the starting point. And that could be any part of the song.”

Although Benny has always been, in Björn’s vernacular, “the musical motor” in the Andersson/Ulvaeus partnership, supplying most of the ideas for their songs, this does not mean that Björn never contributed anything. By the time his and Benny’s collaboration truly kicked off, towards the end of the 1960s, Björn had already proved himself as a tunesmith, having had a dozen of his songs recorded, several of which were strong, catchy tunes. Clearly, such an ambitious songwriter wouldn’t just sit and wait for Benny to come up with ideas. It is true, however, that as the nature of their collaboration evolved, Björn would take on the role of “editor” of the ideas that flowed from his colleague, essentially being Benny’s sparring partner. Parallel with this development, his interest in lyric-writing grew, and today’s Andersson/Ulvaeus songs are strictly music by the former, lyrics by the latter.

While Benny remembers several melody lines for ABBA songs coming to him, today Björn can’t remember any specific parts of tunes that he himself contributed. “Benny provided most of the music even in the early days,” he admits, “but it’s awfully difficult to say exactly where things start and end during the songwriting process.” And, as Benny points out, the Andersson/Ulvaeus partnership has never been about that type of issue. “It’s an interesting question, to pinpoint who does what in a song. It might be that one of us brings along a song that is complete: both of us feel that it’s complete, so that’s what it is. But let’s say that the song is complete, and then one of us says, ‘Wait a minute, what if we do it like this at that point in the song?’ and then we both agree, ‘Yeah, that’s really great!’ Who has written the song then? Is it the work of one person or of two persons? In other words, if we agree on a thing together, then both of us have been equally involved. In that respect there’s a tremendous difference between being alone and being together.”

ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions cover
ABBA – The Complete Recording Sessions

The book ABBA – The Complete Recording Sessions by Carl Magnus Palm is a must for every ABBA fan. Pre-order your copy at abbathecompleterecordingsessions.com.

‘Fellow’ Benny unveils new composition at KMH royal gala opening

On Thursday 26 January, Stockholm’s Royal College of Music, celebrated the opening of its new campus with an inauguration ceremony which featured a specially penned piece of music by Benny Andersson with lyrics by Björn Ulvaeus, Vi äger drömmarna (We Own The Dreams).

Benny acknowledges the audience’s appreciation

Benny, who has helped raise the money needed to fit out the new state-of-the-art building through his involvement with the ‘Music For Millions’ fundraising campaign, attended the prestigious event accompanied by his wife Mona.

Görel Hanser was also among the invited guests along with Göran Arnberg from Benny’s band who is an alumni of Kungliga Musikhögskolan (KMH) and wrote the choral arrangements for Benny and Björn’s new composition.

The gala ceremony, attended by luminaries and royalty including His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia, began with a champagne reception in the futuristic, atrium style foyer that connects the original brick stables with the glass and steel structure of the new building.

Following  the unveiling of a large brass plaque engraved with the names of the project’s most significant donors, KMH students performed a contemporary piece from platforms around and above the room before guests were invited to take their seats in the Royal Hall.

Once inside, the concert continued with a mixture of modern, folk and traditional works by acclaimed Swedish composers including Karin Rehnquist and Jesper Nordin.

The students performed the choral Vi äger drömmarna, towards the end of the performance. Benny took the stage briefly afterwards to acknowledge the applause and thank the conductor and musicians.

Benny is only the 9th person to receive a KMH Fellowship

Interspersing the evening’s musical programme were a number of inaugural speeches and presentations, one of which included bestowing Benny with an Honorary Fellowship of Kungliga Musikhögskolan.

According to the music school, the title is only awarded to “particularly deserving persons of great artistic and educational inspiration and integrity”.

The inscription on Benny’s certificate translates as: ‘For rich and multi-faceted achievements as a composer, musical arranger, band leader and instrumentalist, a great commitment to younger fellow musicians and the support of KMH and its students.’

Benny is only the 9th person in the school’s history to have received the honour and he joins the likes of opera singer Birgit Nilsson, violinist Isaac Stern, record producer Sir George Martin and choral conductor Eric Ericson.

(c) 2017 Mono Music AB/Kopparnäset Immaterialrättigheter AB

Speaking to icethesite after the ceremony Benny said in his usual humble manner:

“I have no idea why they think I deserve to receive the Fellowship, but I am extremely honoured and happy that they do. I think it is a very nice collection of names to be a part of.”

Benny also told us that he does hope to record Vi äger drömmarna one day, however, he doesn’t know who will perform it, or when or where it will eventually appear.

Thursday’s concert is scheduled to be broadcast on Swedish radio on 9 February and film from the ceremony will be included on a TV documentary about KMH to be shown later this year.

KMH’s housewarming party continues into this weekend with a packed programme of free concerts, workshops and events open to the public.

There’s more…

Benny and Björn celebrate 50 years of musical collaboration and friendship

Before the guests arrived: BAO rehearsing at Berns Salonger in Stockholm on 05 June.
Before the guests arrived, BAO rehearsing at Berns Salonger in Stockholm on 05 June.

Sunday 5 June 2016 marked the 50th anniversary of the day that Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus first met.

One of the world’s most successful and enduring musical collaborations was celebrated in grand style at a private party at Berns Salonger in Stockholm.

The party was attended by 350 guests, all of whom Benny and Björn have worked with during their career, including Agnetha Fältskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad, Görel Hanser, Michael B Tretow, Tommy Körberg, Helen Sjöholm and BAO, Tim Rice, Murray Head, Judy Cramer, Peter Jöback, Thomas and Marie Ledin, Lill-Babs, Kristina Lugn, Björn Skifs and Janne Schaffer, to name but a few!

Sir Paul McCartney (Björn and Benny have often acknowledged the massive influence The Beatles made upon their early careers) sent a video message conveying his congratulations.

The celebrations commenced at 18.15 (a reference to the year of the Battle of Waterloo) with a champagne reception during which Benny and Björn both made short welcoming speeches.

While the guests enjoyed dinner, a video of old photographs and interviews from the 1960s played on a big screen.

Some of the guests took to the stage in musical tribute: Benny’s sons Ludvig and Peter performed Rock Me, Helen Sjöholm sang Where I Want To Be, Peter Jöback  Det kan ingen doctor hjälpa and Svenne Hedlund Isn’t It Easy To Say. There were also performances from Lill-Babs, Lena Philipsson and Pernilla Wahlgren.

Benny said that most of the entertainment was as much a surprise for him and Björn as it was for the invited guests, having been planned in secret by a committee consisting of Ludvig, Görel, Lars Rudolfsson and the evening’s toast-master Claes af Geijerstam.

“When we started talking about throwing a party about a year back, Ludvig suggested that maybe they should do something that we didn’t know about,” Benny told us. “It is incredible that so many people wanted to participate. We had such a great time and I think they did too,” he said.

Later in the evening Benny’s band, BAO (Benny Anderssons Orkester), entertained with an hour long set of songs old and new, including their hit Du är min man, performed with a comic twist of Tommy singing the female vocals inferring that Benny and Björn’s relationship was like that of a couple!

However, for many, the highlight of the night was undoubtedly when Agnetha and Frida joined Benny and Björn on stage for the second time in just a few months. And this time they sang!

The female half of ABBA performed a moving duet of The Way Old Friends Do, from their 1980 album Super Trouper, while Benny (piano) and Björn (vocals) performed another classic from the ABBA catalogueDoes Your Mother Know. 

Afterwards, Frida said that it had been a very special occasion: “It was absolutely amazing. A lot of emotions. It’s been very nostalgic,” she told journalists.

Benny told icethesite that he had no idea that Agnetha and Frida were going to sing. “I think it was just so wonderful that they did that for us. I think they were really brave!” he said.

The party continued well into the early hours.

There’s more…

BAO new album – Mitt hjärta klappar för dig

The new 11-track album by BAO (Benny Anderssons Orkester) is called ‘Mitt hjärta klappar för dig’ and is scheduled to be released on Friday 10 June in Sweden. The first single, due shortly, is ‘En natt i Köpenhamn’.

Benny Anderssons Orkester
Benny Anderssons Orkester – Photo: Peter Knutson

In a change from what was reported previously, the album will consist of 11 tracks. This is in order that the vinyl version (where space is limited) can match that of the CD release. The vinyl version is slated for a mid-July release.

Of the ten tracks with vocals (all in Swedish), nine have lyrics written by Björn Ulvaeus and one features lyrics by Frida Hyvönen.

Mitt hjärta klappar för dig
Mitt hjärta klappar för dig – due June 10

Mitt hjärta klappar för dig – tracklist

  1. En natt i Köpenhamn
  2. Bara bara du
  3. Hem till mamma
  4. Minnena bleknar med tiden
  5. Summa summarum
  6. Timmarna går så fort när man har roligt
  7. En svala gör ingen sommar
  8. Smoochy (instrumental)
  9. Isabella Rahm (lyrics by Frida Hyvönen)
  10. Mitt hjärta klappar för dig
  11. Ticka ticka väckarklocka

For more information on BAO, please check out the Benny Anderssons Orkester Facebook page.

When Björn Ulvaeus met Richard Dawkins

When Björn Ulvaeus met Richard Dawkins was filmed at Stockholm's Cirkus theatre.
‘When Björn Ulvaeus met Richard Dawkins’ was filmed at Stockholm’s Cirkus theatre.

In the video embedded below, former ABBA member Björn Ulvaeus meets author, ethologist and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins.

The meeting was recorded on 12 December 2015 at the Cirkus theatre in Stockholm. The pair discuss Dawkins’ work on the front line of research and about their joint fight against superstition and fallacies.

Björn is a prominent member of the Swedish Humanist Association and has written articles about his humanistic approach to life. On joining the Humanist society, Björn said: “When I saw irrational, religious conservative values and hostility against science influencing society, I searched for an organisation that deals with these questions.”

Dawkins’ book Kampen mot illusionerna (Fight against delusions) seen in the background of the video revolves around the second half of his eventful life and relates his encounters and experiences linked to science and research. The organisers of the event were Fri Tanke Publishing House and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

The video lasts for 1 hour, 7 minutes.

There’s more…